Global Warming & Population Growth

Now that the public has finally been awakened to the dangers that global warming and other associated forms of environmental upheavals which threaten our planet, very serious ethical choices face us as well.

Certainly, one issue is the question of population control.  For if we are already confronted with what amounts to an environmental Armageddon with some six-billion or more people on the face of the earth today, what happens when the population reachesas the experts predictat least nine-billion by 2050?

True, some of these same experts are claiming that once we reach the nine-billion mark things will stabilize at that point.  But there seems to be a “Catch 22” lurking in that prediction.  That’s because the prediction is based largely on the observation that when countries become “developed” through industrialization, population growth is almost inevitably decreased, or, as is the case with Europe, almost comes to a total halt.   But the flip side is that when this industrial development happens, the amount of pollution produced by this same population grows by leaps and bounds.  

The major example of this problem at present is the United States .   With only about 5% of the world’s population, we nevertheless are responsible for 20% of its pollution and global warming.   So what happens when China , with about one-fifth of the world’s people, becomes as industrially developed as the United States ?    It hardly takes a rocket scientist to figure out that when that happenswhich the Chinese seem determined to dothe amount of pollution and global warming, unless drastic new anti-pollution measures are taken, could increase by 80%.

So what to do?   China has long taken draconian measures such as enforcing a one child per family rule, even by brutal measures such as compulsory abortionsto stabilize its population growth. They seem to have largely succeeded, even to the point where in some areas the Chinese government is now offering family subsidies to those couples who produce an additional child, especially if it is a girl.    India , with its intensive birth-control promotion, including sterilization, has been less successful in curbing its growth.   By the year 2040, India ’s population is expected to surpass China ’s, even while its industrialization is advancing full tilt.

It appears then that the only effective remedyone that goes far beyond limits on population growthhas to be one that emphasizes drastic measures to cut back the amount of pollution, beginning with those populations that are consuming the highest amounts of energy, whether in proportion termsas in the USAor in absolute terms, as in China, whose energy consumption will soon equal that of the USA. High-tech fixes, like producing large amounts of ethanol to replace petroleum-based fuels (gasoline, diesel, and fuel oil) is not enough, and, in fact, in some ways could make the situation worse.  Replacing fossil-fuel generated electricity with that produced by hydroelectric and wind-powered generators may help some.   New, safer nuclear-powered electrical generating plants, such as those developed by France , could also greatly help.  

However, when push comes to shove, nothing can replace the necessity of adopting a simpler, less energy-consuming life-style.   Here, on this count, the so-called “developing nations” still have an advantage.  This is the kind of life most of their people have been living all-along.  

What remains, especially for us who have lived so lavishly at the expense of the environment for so long, is to share the really worth-while life-enhancing developments, such as our nutritional, medical, and other social advances with less-fortunate peoples. Yet, at the same time, we must rid ourselves of the wasteful and pollution-producing habits that are rapidly destroying our environment.    

It is this challenge, perhaps more than any other, that forms the moral/ethical imperative of the remainder of this new century.  Many of the other problems, like war, disease, and famine are directly or indirectly connected with environmental degradation.   Some of them may be temporarily fixed by various short-term measures.   But if we fail to secure the long-term future of planet Earth as a suitable home for life, we will have, for all practical purposes, lost it all.      

R W Kropf     2/28/07                  Population.doc (690 words)  07-02-28.html